Creepy Crawlers

I suppose it stands to reason that at 6am in the morning the gym is full of fruit loops. After all, what sane person would tumble out of bed at such an ungodly hour and voluntarily start running on a treadmill or start swimming half a mile?

That’ll be me then.

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For many years now, I have (often wearily) swum 30 lengths of the pool three mornings a week – before a great race against the clock to wash and blow dry my hair, slap some make-up on, grab a coffee  – and be at my desk for 8am. Recently, I’ve upped this madness to five mornings a week, to include two gym workouts too.

In my mind, I see this early morning as a good use of time: Basically, if I wasn’t at the gym, I’d be happily catching a few extra Zs in the comfort of my own bed.

But you have to draw the line somewhere. What kind of lunatic, for example, sets their alarm at 5.30am, drives to the gym and then idly lounges around in the jacuzzi?

Every morning, as I’m feverishly front-crawling in the pool, there’s a least three people just chewing the fat in the jacuzzi/ sauna/ steam room like they’ve got all the time in the world. If you want that kind of relaxation at the crack of dawn, here’s an idea: JUST STAY IN BED.

Most early-morning gym frequenters follow the unwritten rule of going about their workout/ hair dry/ make-up application in comfortable silence. No-one wants to start making small-talk at such an early hour.

No-one that is, except for Mad Scottish Woman.

I’ve mentioned Mad Scottish Woman before. But recently she has begun to loom even larger in my life. She’s in the pool pretty much every morning, clad in a full black wet suit and thrashing around like a huge excitable whale.

When she’s not showering other swimmers with torrents of water from her noisy, showy lengths of butterfly, she’s pacing around the sides, chomping on bananas and sniffing around eagerly for anyone to talk to. If in doubt, do not make eye contact with this woman.

What amazes me the most is that despite this seemingly extensive fitness regime, Mad Scottish Woman is still about the size of a small garden shed.

Only the other morning, as I was feebly lowering myself into the water, Mad Scottish Woman started yelling and beckoning to me with over exaggerated arm movements.

‘Do you want this float?’ she bellowed.

Float? Why would I want her float?

‘No, thank you,’ I said primly. I lowered my goggles in what I hoped was a please-do-not-engage-with-me-any-futher-gesture.

Luckily for me, Mad Scottish Woman was already eyeing up her next victim: a drippy-looking man, who was doing the doggy paddle in the lane next to her. She started gesticulating to him that he was doing his stroke all wrong.

‘Like this,’ she said, as she pounded down the length of the pool, soaking several unsuspecting swimmers in the process.

On her return, she actually started man-handling Mr Doggy Paddle, showing him how to stretch out his arms. He looked nothing short of terrified.

‘This woman is out of control,’ I thought.

Now, I’m not one to usually cast judgement on the trends of exercise attire but recently, I’ve spotted some rather bizarre get-ups in the gym itself.

Exhibit A: Woman on cross-trainer in full padded coat, complete with fur trim.

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Exhibit B: Woman clad in full length dress, attempting to cross train – and, later hitching it up to her knees to grapple with the rowing machine.

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Whatever happened to a good old t-shirt and leggings?

In the coffee queue the other morning, a man quite randomly offered to buy me a coffee.

I found this a little odd.

It was 7.45am. I’d just done 30 lengths, dried my hair in a hurry, and somehow managed to fend off the advances of Mad Scottish Woman. I didn’t have any fight left in me.

‘Sure,’ I said. ‘I’ll just take a medium-sized-one-shot-extra-hot-soy-latte-easy-on-the-foam.’

‘A what?’ he said.

Saga Sagas

I have a new friend at Caffè Nero. His name is Cecil and he’s 87. My quota of octogenarian acquaintances may soon outgrow my dwindling band of ‘normal’ friends. I’m not sure how worried I should be.

Cecil comes into Nero on a Saturday. Like all the other lonely souls, what he really wants is someone to talk to. He moved to Leeds from the East End in the war and lived in a back-to-back in Harehills. He used to travel to school on the tram for a ha’penny but he was too poor to afford a cap.

I’ve yet to snap a candid picture of Cecil but to put you in the picture, he’s a cross between Patrick Stewart and a kindly wizard.

Cecil is entirely pleasant company. If I’m being honest, I’m beginning to grow a bit weary of my other coffee shop friend Peter and his constant carousel of desperate dates.

Pushing 80 himself, widower Peter is still pursuing the entirely unsuitable 50-something year old business woman, who not only has a partner already but appears to be stringing poor Pete along. I’ve tried to point this out to him but he seems completely blinded by love. Never a fool like an old fool and all that.

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I mentioned such concerns to fellow Nero regular Linda the other day (former miserly, seen here uncharacteristically shrouded in fur, who’s actually turned out to be surprisingly friendly).

She nodded along sagely, before stating: ‘Peter is a petulant child. Like all men, he’s completely self-obsessed and selfish.’

I haven’t been able to look at Peter in the same light since. I saw him on Saturday and he regaled me with his usual tales of myriad dinner dates, Italian holidays and trips to the opera, while simultaneously dabbing wet eyes about his deceased wife and lamenting how lonely his life is. I couldn’t help but think, perhaps Peter is a bit selfish?

Peter concluded the conversation by telling me about his weight training and the dumb bells he’s been lifting at home.

‘However, I hear you’re very fit,’ he said. ‘You’ve been spotted at the gym.’

‘By who?’ I said.

‘Colin Firth!’ he said.

(Colin Firth is a harassed-looking dad, who brings his kids into Neros on a Saturday, usually leaving a trail of biscuit crumbs and destruction in his wake. Don’t be fooled by the name either: he’s a less attractive, ginger version of his Hollywood doppelgänger)

I’m assuming Firth meant ‘fit’ as in healthy, not the ‘phwoar’ sense. But still, I find the idea of frazzled-father Firth and petulant Peter having such a conversation about me a little unnerving – not least because all I really do at the gym is flap around on the cross-trainer for half an hour.

Peter also seems to have turned on another Nero oldie: Malcolm (dotty old Majorca fan).

‘Malcolm isn’t happy that I’m been getting on well with Bridget,’ said Peter.

(Bridget being another wholly unsuitable love interest)

‘He keeps coming over and standing right next to us, puffing out his chest like a peacock. I’ve had to tell him to push off.’

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‘Anyway, you’re on half term next week,’ continued Peter. You’ll be able to see all this for yourself!’

Perhaps it’s time to retreat to Starbucks.

Playing A Blinder

I’m always a bit late to the party when it comes to stellar TV series (Breaking Bad, Dexter, The Fall, to name a few). 

But this week I have developed an all-consuming obsession with Thomas Shelby the lead character in Peaky Blinders, played by chiselled-cheeked Irish actor Cillian Murphy.

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I’d vaguely heard about Peaky Blinders a year or two ago – something about bad Brummie accents and a brief nod to 1920s fashion in Grazia magazine.

So it was only when I finally sat down to watch Peaky Blinders (on recommendation of the sister-in-law), that I became completely and utterly hooked.

Never has a lead character fascinated me quite as much since my long-standing fixation with Don Draper from Mad Men (aka The Best TV Series In The World Ever).

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In Mad Men, Don was darkly enigmatic, brooding and inherently-flawed, but in Peaky Blinders, Thomas Shelby is all piercing blue eyes, porcelain skin and sharper than the razor blades concealed in his cap.

I shared my Cillian Murphy/ Thomas Shelby crush with friend Sally-Ann over a mid-week glass of Malbec.

Helpfully, I was carrying the season 2 DVD in my bag, having hastily ordered it the previous evening to feed the fixation (thank God for Amazon Prime).

I whipped it out of my bag and placed it on the table. Murphy’s cerulean eyes started back enchantingly.

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Take a look. He may even be carved out of pure marble.

‘I completely understand,’ said Sally-Ann, sagely. ‘This is what happens when you’re old and married like us.

‘We basically start developing these ridiculous crushes. We’re only one step away from turning into cougars.’

The husband has also developed his own mini obsession – with Sam Neill who plays the bad-ass Victorian cop, hellbent on hunting Shelby down. He has a very strong Irish accent, which the husband likes to get his tongue around.

In the shower the other morning, I heard him saying in his best Ulster accent: ‘Let dog fight dog… and we will be there to pick apart the carcasses.’

And when I asked if he was going to put petrol in the car in Sunday he replied: ‘That I’m not. I’m going to hunt those BEASTS down.’

In the pub on Friday, I began bleating on about Cillian Murphy to anyone who’d listen.

One friend said she’d helped design an extension on his London home, although she never actually met him in person.

‘Yep, he does live in North-West London,’ I said, knowledgeably (I’ve done my Wikipedia research, natch). ‘He’s 38 and married with two sons. He used to be in a rock band. However, he shuns the limelight for a quiet life.

‘I’m probably going to travel down to London and become his full-time stalker.’

‘What is Peaky Blinders?’ another friend asked.

‘It’s about a gang of hoodlums in 1920s Birmingham, who basically go round attacking people with razor blades sewn into the peaks of their caps,’ I said, whilst thinking ‘this actually doesn’t sound very appealing at all’.

She looked on in barely-concealed bemusement.

‘I’m so obsessed that it’s a wonder I’ve even been able to leave the house,’ I continued.

‘I’ll be going straight home from here to feast on another episode.’

I’m now faced with a new dilemma. With only five episodes of season 2 left and season 3 still in production, do I restrict my intake to one episode a week, in order to prolong my love affair with the aforementioned?

Or do I watch them all at once in one gloriously gluttonous boxset binge?

After all, there’s always Broadchurch.

Pillow Talk

Someone wished me a ‘happy New Year’ yesterday. I think they may have missed the cut-off point for this.

It’s a terribly British problem but when exactly is it socially appropriate to stop saying ‘happy New Year!’? It feels like we’ve been shrouded in grey skies, beset by biting winds and plagued by slippery pavements for weeks.

Aside from sodden Uggs (aka Sluggs), January’s biggest fashion problem is Hat Hair. Hat Hair occurs when you leave the house wearing an on-trend woollen hat, only to arrive at your destination, remove said hat – and then realise that your hair is plastered to your head and flatter than a pancake.

As I type, I’m currently battling the dilemma of whether to remove my hat and expose the inevitable Hat Hair or keep it safely hiding my flattened tresses. Outside, this bushy beast passed for something relatively fashionable; now that I’m wearing it indoors – sans coat – it looks like a giant toilet brush.

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It’s so cold that I’ve become obsessed with ridiculously hot baths. It’s not even that our apartment, aka the Holiday Home, is even that cold (the heating’s been on for four years because the husband and I never did work out how to turn it off); I’ve just got The Perma-Chill Within. I literally cannot function at home without clambering straight into a scalding bath to warm my cold bones.

But the ultimate weapon against The Perma-Chill Within is the hot water bottle. Anyone who doesn’t use the trusty bottie is seriously missing a trick.

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Simply fill it up from the kettle (ignore the naysayers who warn against this), pop it under the duvet and it will heat the bed all night (White Company cashmere cover optional). I’ve even been known to leave the house with one strapped to my back. I’m now just  one step away from the ultimate statement of slobbiness: the slanket.

In other mundane/ inane news, my cleaner (she of the bizarre presents; details here) has finally returned from her extended break in Poland. Thank the Lord. (Yes, I have a cleaner. I’m far too important educating the next generation to iron my own smalls).

However, I fear she might have taken leave of her senses. Evidence as follows…

ME: Hi! Bit of a strange question but do you know what you did with the pillowcases that were on our bed? I wanted to wash them but I can find only the sheets…

CLEANER: So sorry Katy! I will ask my friend. She clean the bed today. She not answer her mobile. Oh I am so very sorry about this. I don’t check her today very carefully.

ME: Don’t worry. I’m sure they’ll turn up!

CLEANER: She still not answer her phone. I can come and sort this out now because I don’t feel so good about this.

ME: It’s fine. I was just a bit puzzled. Please don’t worry.

CLEANER: I come to house now to sort this out.

ME: There’s no need to do that. It’s fine!

CLEANER: I am so sorry! Maybe she put the left this cases on the pillow and she put new cases on top?

ME: Hi! You’re right – she has. I’ve found them!

CLEANER: Oh my good! I am so very sorry. Next time I do the beds. So so sorry Katy!!! I am really sorry!

ME: Please don’t worry. Have a great weekend.

CLEANER: Thank you. I am one more time SO SO SORRY!!!!

Reading these messages, you probably now think that I keep the kowtowing cleaner locked in a cupboard and occasionally beat her with a mop.

But honestly I couldn’t be a better employer: I always make sure I’m out when she comes, eat and drink her strange Polish gifts out of guilt, and have given her jobs with at least eight other friends. I even clean up for the cleaner. Who does that?

Following The Curious Incident of the Vanishing Pillowcases, by way of apology she presented me with a fine bottle of… Zubrowka Bison Grass.

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I’m not sure exactly what it is but I can only assume from the picture that it’s a highly potent Polish vodka, mixing the blood of a bull with the semen of an ox.

Thank God for Dry January.

In Da Club

Playground of the rich, metropolis of the future, and home – it seems – to half the population of Essex… Welcome to Dubai.

Where there’s sun and money, the C-list schlebs will follow. Fame-hungry Abbey Clancy’s on the beach over yonder straddling a camel and posing for the paps, and pearly-toothed Mark Wright (whoever he is) is busy filling his boots at the free hotel buffet.

Basically, our hotel has become the setting for an entire episode of TOWIE.

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Getting some winter sun comes at a high price. Surrounded by cranes, skyscrapers and garish opulence, the husband put it like this: ‘It’s basically Disneyland in the desert. But instead of Mickey Mouse on the prowl you’ve got fake sheikhs on the take.’

Seriously though, we are very happy here sipping ruinously-expensive cocktails, lapping up the rays and reading our books, save for an annoying man next to us whose mobile appears to be surgically attached to his ear. His latest call was to Carl Cox.

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‘Alright Coxy,’ he bleated in a Jonathan Ross voice. I was surprised he could speak at all given the mouthfuls of food he was shovelling in in a most slovenly manner. (Seriously, eating lunch on your sunbed – is there no decorum left?) ‘I’ve told them it’s £150,000 for a four-hour set. They’re getting back to me.’

Hot on the heels of bumping into some parents from school (‘What are the chances?’), the husband then decided that there might be someone he knows reclining on the sun lounger behind us.

‘Take a long look at him and report back,’ said the husband, in hushed tones.

‘Thinning grey hair, rather challenged around the waistline, looks just like the old dude off Ray Donovan,’ I said, covertly peering from behind my shades.

‘Thats him!’ said the husband. ‘Let’s hide.’

There’s been a lot of talk from the husband of what to do on New Year’s Eve.

If it was up to me, I’d be tucked up watching the final episode of Homeland in my new cashmere bed socks, perhaps taking an occasional glance at the fireworks through the window.

This option, however, has been vetoed by the husband, who appears to have succumbed to the age-old pressure of What To Do On New Year’s Eve.

This might mean we are forced to spend an obscene amount of money on a set menu in one of Dubai’s fine eateries. Naturally, I’m doing everything in my power to stop this.

Our hotel, which lurks in the shadow of the Dubai Mall – a great sprawling behemoth of consumerism – has published a handy guide on what to do for New Year’s Eve.

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Every restaurant in the vicinity has a minimum entry fee and, worse still, you have to be there by 4pm at the latest! That’s eight hours of wining and dining before the chords of Auld Lang Syne even strike up. I was having palpatations just thinking about it.

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I idly flicked through the booklet. Carluccios had a set menu for AED 625 (about £125), TGI Fridays were charging a staggering £300, Fortnum and Mason were a snip at around £200, and Starbucks were charging £100.

Wait… Starbucks?! Home to overpriced wishy-washy coffee. What could possibly be on this £100 set menu? Stale blueberry muffin for starters, anaemic mozzarella panini for the main, and one of those sickly caramel waffles for dessert – all washed down with a tepid milky latte?

Luckily, fate has intervened… in the form of The Club. The Club is a newly-discovered lounge in our hotel which serves up FREE afternoon tea, FREE snacks 24-7, and FREE food and drinks by night.

Note the emphasis on free. In a city where you have to sell a kidney to buy a gin and tonic, this is quite remarkable.

The husband and I made our first trip to The Club last night and enjoyed champagne cocktails and chilled glasses of Sauvignon – all on the house.

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All around us people were hungrily slurping their free drinks and tucking into the rather sizeable buffet. A man in scruffy tracksuit bottoms and a t-shirt shuffled past, plate piled high.

‘Look at that,’ I whispered. ‘These people aren’t even bothering to change out of their slobs. They’re just here for the free food and drink!’

‘That’s Mark Wright from TOWIE,’ said the husband, who to my knowledge has never watched an episode of reality TV in his life.

‘He’s really big news’.

As if on cue, a gaggle of tipsy women raised their Cosmpolitons and chorused, ‘Hi Mark’ in unison as he passed.

‘Never heard of him,’ I said.

‘Here’s the plan,’ I told the sceptical husband. ‘We come to The Club for New Year’s Eve. We’ll gorge on the buffet, quaff the champers and watch the fireworks from the balcony. And best of all, it won’t cost us a penny!’

‘There’s just one problem,’ said the husband.

‘I’ve already booked Starbucks.’

Trunky Want A Bun?

A peculiar email from our old nosy neighbours snooping Susan and deflated Dick landed in my inbox today.

Our favourite curtain twitchers (details here) may have moved out six months ago but it’s reassuring/ slightly frightening to know that they’re still keeping tabs on the comings and goings of our apartment block – from their new abode several miles away!

Hi Katy,

Thought I would send best wishes for 2015, particularly for happy relationships with your neighbours.

I had a brief phone conversation with Bea (Apt 2) recently, who told me about the party in our old apartment: held by son of new owners, with police being called, she thought. She also thought the police had been back looking for the previous woman tenant of no. 4, but she was a bit vague about it.

Here in new apartment: all quiet, reliable and pleasant neighbours, all owner-occupiers with one exception – and that tenant sleeps here during the week only, and we have never seen him since our arrival in July!

Best wishes,

Susan and Dick

I re-read the email and am still completely baffled as to its purpose.

Is it that they merely want to boast about the serenity of their new domicile?

Do they want me to tell them how hellish it is living here, in order to justify their move?

Or are they simply hoping I will provide them with insider information about their erstwhile neighbours – to feed their insatiable appetite for gossip?

Answers on a postcard please…

* Trunky want a bun? – possibly my favourite-ever phrase to describe a nosy person (trunky being an elephant sniffing out a bun).

Getting Shady With The Ladies

It’s Saturday morning and the perfect chance to catch up with Peter, my weepy 70-year-old coffee shop pal who’s looking for love.

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Peter’s love life is now so complicated that even I’m struggling to keep up. Despite claiming to be a one-woman man (he was devoted to beloved Brenda for 50 years), he seems to have at least five women now on the go. That’s a lot of irons in the fire.

Here’s our Graham with a quick reminder: there’s ‘Gates’ – a woman who lives near by (who opens her gates as a signal that he’s allowed in for a bottle of Lidl Prosecco), there’s a nurse he’s got his eye on in Nero (she has nice legs, old Pete doesn’t miss a trick), a council woman he tried to ask out but rebuffed him (he won’t ask again!); another widower with an interest in ballroom dancing (‘work in progress’).

But the woman who has really stolen his heart is a local business woman, who is so affectionate she practically ‘mauls’ him. Problem is, this business woman already has a partner. Peter’s head tells him to ‘get out now’, but his heart’s telling him otherwise.

I’m worried this won’t end well for emotionally-fragile Pete.

To further complicate matters, it turns out Peter has a love rival: Shady Kevin. Shady Kevin is another fixture on the Nero scene: a perma-tanned, grizzle-haired property developer with an eye for the ladies. He might be generously described as a silver fox but I think he looks shifty – and Peter agrees.

‘I may be in the kindergarten when it comes to women but when it comes to men I’m all there,’ said Peter. ‘There’s a saying we had in the car business: ‘no-one can lift my leg’.

‘I don’t trust Shady Kevin one bit. He sits in the corner watching my every move.’

‘If he was a horse, I wouldn’t ride him and if he was a dog, I’d have him muzzled!’

Malcolm, on the other hand, seems to be getting a bit bothersome in his old age. A hand-written letter arrived from him at my workplace, thanking me for the olive oil I bought him in Mallorca back in August. I’m a little alarmed by this, as I don’t recall telling him where I worked.

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Luckily, the heat’s off because Peter tells me that Malcolm’s developed a small fixation with a woman called Bridget (stern-looking school m’am with bobbed hair; takes no prisoners). However, Bridget has a crush on ‘Colin Firth’ (a married father-of-two with Hollywood looks, who makes her heart ‘beat furiously’). Introduce Shady Kevin into this mix, who apparently fancies Bridget…  and poor Malcolm doesn’t stand a chance.

And if this wasn’t enough characters to add to this ever-evolving soap opera, let me introduce you to one more: Leery Len.

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Leery Len is part of the late afternoon Nero crew (a whole new group of oddities, separate to the morning pensioner parade we’ve come to love and know). Leery Len is one of those highly-irritating people, who talks in a really loud voice so that every conversation is like one big stage show for those unfortunate enough to be around him.

This boombastic bozo meets with his friend religiously at 5pm every evening and spends a lot of time complaining bitterly about his perpetually-complicated love life, namely ‘idiotic’ women who don’t return his calls.

He also makes loud, border-line misogynist comments about women in his vicinity such as, ‘My oh my, she’s stunning and look at her legs!’

Occasionally, he bellows silly statements across to me such as, ‘I don’t know how you cope with that machine (my laptop) – I once signed up to email and got hundreds of the blasted things!’ and, ‘Do you think I should join Facebook? What’s the difference between Facebook and Twitter?’

Have you ever tried to explain the difference between Facebook and Twitter to a technologically-challenged buffoon? It’s harder than you think.

One final new Nero character who deserves a mention is Note Woman. Note Woman apparently delivers hand-written notes to people sat drinking their coffee. The notes are all steeped in paranoia, saying things like, ‘Do not trust the man you are talking to.’

I haven’t actually met Note Woman yet; she might even be an urban myth.

But I’m already looking forward to the day a crazed-looking pensioner sidles over and drops a note in my lap saying: ‘Do not trust that shifty man in the corner with the grey hair and suspicious tan….

‘Get him MUZZLED.’